Ancient Polities, Modern States
CitationFoa, Roberto. 2016. Ancient Polities, Modern States. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractPolitical science is concerned with the study of polities. However, remarkably few scholars are familiar with the polities of the premodern era, such as Vijayanagara, Siam, Abyssinia, the Kingdoms of Kongo or Mutapa, or the Mysore or Maratha empires. This dissertation examines the legacies of precolonial polities in India, during the period from 1707 to 1857. I argue that, contrary to the widespread perception that the Indian subcontinent was a pre-state society, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were a time of rapid defensive modernization across the subcontinent, driven by the requirements of gunpowder weaponry and interstate warfare among South Asian regimes and against European colonial powers. These changes included the broadening and deepening of the tax base, consolidation of territorial control, reorganization of domestic militaries to use infantry and gunpowder weapons, rationalization of the administration through use of accounts and printed records, and the professionalization and functional differentiation of the executive branch.
I then trace the boundaries of precolonial eighteenth-century South Asian polities, in order to show that districts of India that lie narrowly within the boundary lines of historically centralized states perform significantly better today on a wide variety of district-level indicators of state effectiveness than those narrowly outside these boundaries, despite the fact that these borders largely ceased to exist in the early nineteenth century. These estimated effects are robust to a wide variety of controls, placebo tests for border displacement, the exclusion of individual polities, and controls for the boundaries of India’s contemporary federal states. I verify the persistent legacy of precolonial states using a combination of archival research, district-level colonial data on taxation and public goods from 1853 to 1901, and a field test of bureaucratic responsiveness conducted in the state of Karnataka. Using extensive archival research on the fiscal and bureaucratic structure of Indian states in the eighteenth century, I show that following the decline of the Mughal Empire, warfare between “challenger states” prompted an accumulation of bureaucratic and fiscal capacity at the local level, and that this capacity has persisted through the colonial era to the present day. In contrast to “bottom-up” theories of state capacity which root institutional strength in societal characteristics such as ethnic homogeneity, social capital, or land equality, it is argued that government effectiveness is cumulatively built through long-term historical investments in state capacity, and that, in India, an important phase of investment occurred during the warring states period of the eighteenth century.
Finally, I show that this relationship exists beyond the South Asian context, both in cross-country regressions of the effect of state antiquity on contemporary state capacity, and by conducting a subnational historical analysis within districts of the Former Soviet Union. I conclude that augmenting the state’s power to tax, regulate, or conscript is, in Weber’s phrase, “a long and slow boring of hard boards”, and the resources required in order to attain a functioning state - bureaucratic infrastructure, norms of compliance, and affective loyalty - are accumulated only very gradually. Yet where long-extant political regimes were successful in monitoring, coercing, and mobilizing citizens towards state goals they generate a reservoir of legitimacy and compliance, that is essential for making states work in the world today.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:26718768
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